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All I needed was the Supreme, and I would always win

Pragati

For three years, starting in 1977, some 200 New York area students of Sri Chinmoy trained as a group for the Pepsi 24-Hour Bicycle Marathon in Central Park, as he encouraged us to challenge our limitations and thus discover our deeper capacities.

Starting a month before the race, which was held on Memorial Day Weekend, Sri Chinmoy would lead us on daily training rides in Flushing Meadow Park. The Pepsi Bike Marathon drew thousands of amateur participants, but also a core group of professional riders who competed seriously for the prizes. None of our team members had experience in racing, though a few of us did cycle regularly and take road trips. The first year we entered as a team was a bit of an experiment, though I think we won a prize or two for the size of our team and for our uniforms. But the second year, 1978, we trained more seriously, and I felt that Sri Chinmoy was determined to show us the limits of what was possible.    

A week before the race, Sri Chinmoy chose who would be on the two small teams that would compete for the team prizes. I felt honoured that I was the only woman on the first-string team of ten, but I was quite alarmed when Sri Chinmoy solemnly called us up in front of the whole group and told us he envisioned each of us doing 300 miles in 24 hours! That weekend we held a preliminary time-trial on the actual course in Central Park, and I tried to keep the pace that I would need to finish 300 miles in 24 hours. It was grueling. After seven hours I dropped off the pace, and left the park very depressed. I was still depressed the night before the race, when Sri Chinmoy meditated with all the cyclists. As he was leaving the hall, he passed by me and smiled at me with a twinkle in his eye, as if to say, “You don’t know it, but you’re in for quite an experience!” 

When we arrived in Central Park the next day, as soon as I saw the banner that said “Pepsi Bicycle Marathon,” a thrill passed through me. From the minute I got on my bike, I felt a subtle but powerful force propelling me around the course, like a hand actually pushing me, and I simply could not stop. I raced around the five-mile loop for hours on end, up and down the hills, as if I were electrified. At one point during the night, I remember hearing the turning of the pedals, the whirring of the wheels, the wind in my face, and being totally lost in the sound, in the experience. My sense of self disappeared and I became totally one with the bicycle, one with the force that was pushing me. 

There were a few other good women cyclists in the race, but for one reason or another they all had to drop out or pull back. I wasn’t thinking much about who I was competing against; I was only focused on completing the 300 miles Sri Chinmoy had asked me to do for the team prize. By the end of 24 hours, I had reached 310 miles. 

Pragati being interviewed after the race

When I stopped and got off my bike, a TV reporter from Eyewitness News came up to me and said, “Congratulations!” I replied, “For what?” She said, “Oh, you won!” A wave of gratitude rose from my toes to my head. In silence I said, “Guru, if I never win anything else in my life ever again, this is enough.” I’m sure that other members of our team had similar experiences because that year we won all the team prizes and many individual awards.  Our fellow team member Ashrita Furman took third place for men, cycling over 400 miles, and has also recounted the powerful experience he had, which inspired him to embark on setting world records.  For myself, I was in the process of getting divorced, and I knew that this bicycle experience was Sri Chinmoy’s way of teaching me that I didn’t need anybody else. All I needed was the Supreme, and I would always win.